Two arson suspects appeared in an Oakland courtroom this afternoon accused of setting seven different fires that caused $3 million in damage to Alameda homes and businesses early Sunday morning.
Dozens of supporters packed the courtroom for one of the suspects, 27-year-old Stephen Petersen of Alameda, an animal rights activist and musician who is charged with three of the seven counts of arson. Judge Gregory Syren set his bail at $375,000.
The other suspect was identified as 22-year-old Andrew Gutierrez, a transient, who is accused of setting four of the fires. His bail was set at $620,000.
Both defendants remained in custody and were ordered to return to court Wednesday morning.
Petersen was arrested outside a detached garage fire at 2103 San Jose Ave., according to court documents filed by Alameda police Officer Michael Tangataevaha.
He fit the description of a suspect spotted at the scene of two earlier fires and was identified by a witness, Tangataevaha said.
One of the fires he’s accused of setting was a house fire at 1016 Walnut St. that was reported at 2:22 a.m.
The fire caused $300,000 in damage, including damage to a neighboring home, and it took until about 3:14 a.m. for firefighters to get it under control.
He is also accused of setting a garbage container on fire at 1336 Regent St. at about 1 a.m.
Gutierrez is accused of starting the largest of the arson fires that morning, at 1617 Park St., where five businesses and multiple vehicles were found burning when firefighters arrived shortly after 4 a.m., according to the fire department.
The fire caused $2.6 million in damage.
Gutierrez was arrested nearby in the 1500 block of Oak Street just before 5 a.m., Alameda police Officer Brian Clark wrote in a probable cause statement.
He also matched a description provided by a witness and was spotted on video setting fire to a dumpster at 2326 Times Way just before his arrest, Clark said.
Gutierrez is also accused of setting fire to a garbage container at 2260 Encinal St. and a home at 1188 Regent St. that was found burning at 1:39 a.m.
Firefighters controlled that house fire by about 2 a.m. but not before it caused $100,000 in damage to the rear of the house, including damage to one room and the attic, prosecutors said.
Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore wrote a letter to District Attorney Nancy O’Malley asking her to seek the maximum punishment allowed under the law if the two men are convicted.
“Some residents had to flee from their burning homes in the dark. We were very fortunate that no one was injured or killed. In all, eleven properties were affected: one suffered minor damage, seven were severely damaged, and three were destroyed. Five businesses have been shuttered; five residential units have been rendered uninhabitable,” Gilmore wrote.
But Petersen’s emotional supporters today expressed disbelief that he could have committed the crimes he’s charged with, arguing outside of court today that he must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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